Sunday, August 20, 2006

Chuck Dixon on Saving Private Ryan

Chuck Dixon replies on the question of why Saving Private Ryan was really such a bad movie.

We might have to make this a permanent post.

All historical movies are guilty of sacrificing some accuracy for the sake of drama, expediency or whatever. But the misrepresentations of fact, attitude, tactics and reality of Saving Private Ryan represent a high-water mark of cinema dumbness.
We start at the very beginning of the movie. The old vet in the memorial cemetery having the flashback will be revealed at the end of the movie to be Private Ryan himself. But he flashes back to his memories of Omaha Beach and the fighting there; experiences he could not have had himself since his unit (the 101st Airborne) parachuted into France the night before, many miles from Normandy and its beaches.
From there it’s all downhill.
I haven’t seen the movie in a number of years and lots track of some of the gaffes. But a few stick out in my mind.
First and foremost, Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) puts up with a level of open insubordination throughout the film that would never have been tolerated in a WWII combat situation. They were summarily executing guys in the field during this operation for refusing to obey orders. The entire rifle squad’s lives are constantly at stake because Miller hesitates to take control.
The language of the GIs is also anachronistic. It’s sprinkled with phrasing that would not have been used then. Chief among them is the use of the “F” word as a verb, noun, adverb and adjective. Soldiers do use salty language. But this particular Anglo-Saxon term was not in nearly the common useage that this flick suggests and certainly not in the all-purpose forms we hear in this movie.
The squad itself just sort of ambles along like they were heading for a picnic. No one walks point, no one walks drag. When moving through occupied territory a small unit places a man in front to scout for trouble. A man walks behind in case the unit is being followed. In SPR they all walk in a clump where a single grenade or mortar round could take them all out at once. They also walk up on trouble without any advanced warning at least twice in the movie but don’t think of changing their order of march to prevent it happening again.
In the name of artfulness, they are continuously sky-lining themselves; walking along ridgelines and hilltops so we can see their silhouettes against the sky. Very pretty. It also would make them plainly visible to any Germans who happened to be looking for American soldiers that day.
The squad goes through piles of dogtags while members of the 101st march by watching with curiosity. These paratroops are shown as fresh-faced kids who teleported in directly from an Iowa cornfield. In reality, at this point of the battle, these guys would have been awake for 72 straight hours high on adrenalin and amphetamines and coming off of one of most savage hand-to-hand battles of the war. In this instance, reality could have aided the drama as Miller and his unit would have been in real danger for their lives from their own side for their behavior.
The worst comes when Miller and co. finally find Private Ryan. He’s in a village where his paratroop unit has been tasked with holding back German reinforcements. This is a pressure point at a small bridge over a canal. The krauts cannot be allowed to cross that canal or they’ll be able to bring armor against the advancing Americans. Rather than blow the bridge and flee with Ryan, Miller chooses to defend the bridge FROM THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CANAL. He deploys his men (none of whom have anti-tank weapons) to buildings on the opposite side of the canal.
The Germans are all dopes as well. Panzer-grenadiers show up. These guys are motorized infantry assigned to armor units to scout ahead and clear obstacles, mines and take out anti-tank positions. German tank were expensive and the Reich did everything it could to protect them from unnecessary risk. But here, the grenadiers helpfully run along either side of the tanks so they can be mowed down in the open like Imperial Stormtroopers.
These are the ones that I recall. The errors that allow a movie like KELLY’S HEROES to stand as a paragon of research over this much-vaunted movie.
In articles I read while SPR was being filmed, the military advisor on the movie, Dale Dye, was quoted in articles about the difficulty of working on this movie because there were so MANY mistakes in the screenplay. He stated that he could not talk the filmmakers out of keeping many of the egregious errors out of the film. He nearly exhausted himself convincing them to excise the repeated use of the term “motherf*****r” from the dialogue as it was a profanity that did not yet exist in the patois of anyone in 1944.

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Posted by Chuck on August 20, 2006 at 12:10:50

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